Dirty, Dirty Bomber

I'm writing this to implore you to help a United States citizen in dire need of American assistance. This U.S. citizen is being held against his will and his captors say he has no rights whatsoever.

He has been held in an isolated prison for over three years without being charged with any crime. He has been subject to numerous interrogations. He has not been brought before a magistrate to determine if there is any evidence against him.

In fact, his captors hold him based on secret evidence - evidence they refuse to share with the court of any country. To add insult to injury, they say his detention can be indefinite. He might have to spend the rest of his life in prison without ever being presented with the evidence this secretive government claims to have against him.

Who is this deplorable government that is holding one of our citizens? The United States of America.

Jose Padilla is a United States citizen. He was arrested in the United States and has been kept here for the entire duration of his detention. There is absolutely no justification for not applying the United States constitution to Jose Padilla, except one -- the president has unilaterally decided to label him an enemy combatant.

The administration is claiming they have the right to label any United States citizen an enemy combatant and therefore deprive him of all of his constitutional rights. They claim the president can exercise his constitutional powers during wartime to imprison anyone without access to a lawyer or the courts.

But here's the rub - the war on terror has no end. Accordingly, at his sole discretion, the president can continue to hold people he views as dangerous in jail indefinitely.

Is this the kind of America we want? Where the president can imprison people without trial and never give them a lawyer? How are we even contemplating this as a possibility? Who would want to live under that kind of system?

Apparently, this administration.

The executive branch is now willing to curtail our most fundamental constitutional rights for what they claim is a little more security. I would love to know how dangerous Jose Padilla is, so that I can have a sense of whether it's worth giving up my rights to keep him in jail without the assistance of counsel. Unfortunately, we can't figure out if Padilla is the least bit dangerous because the evidence against him is secret.

Just yesterday, the Supreme Court turned down an opportunity to expedite the case of Rumsfeld v. Padilla through the appeals system -- if you call three years without a trial expedited. Instead they will let the federal appeals court rule on it first and take up the case after that.

I think it’s the wrong ruling simply because I can’t believe the Supreme Court has to see what the appeals court has to say about the idea of suspending a US citizen’s rights indefinitely. Is there any plausible scenario where we think this is a good idea?

Look at this sentence from an Associated Press article yesterday on the Padilla case: “His attorneys asked the justices to decide whether President Bush has the power to seize U.S. citizens in civilian settings on American soil and subject them to indefinite military detention without criminal charges or a trial.”

After you pick yourself up off the ground, read that sentence again. This is what we’re having a debate about in this country? Anyone who makes this argument with a straight face in a court of law has no idea what America is supposed to stand for. And apparently has never read our constitution.

Luckily, the Supreme Court already made its feelings about this concept pretty clear in the Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case. Yaser Hamdi was also a U.S. citizen, except he was not arrested in the United States. Hamdi was picked up on the battlefield of Afghanistan. Even so, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that what the Bush administration was asking for was unconscionable. Even Justice Scalia upbraided government for clear violations of constitutional rights.

You would think the Bush administration would be embarrassed to bring an even simpler case back before the court. You would think that they would have learned their lesson – that the United States constitution is not optional.

Of course not. Instead they have changed the nature of their secret claims against Padilla. I know it sounds laughable, but it’s true.

At first, the government claimed Jose Padilla wanted to detonate a dirty bomb inside the United States. If that was true, we should have tried Padilla a long time ago and he should be spending the rest of his life in jail. But how are we to know whether that is true?

If he is a dirty bomber, how dirty is he?

Now, we find out he’s not a dirty bomber after all. Even though John Ashcroft called an emergency press conference in Russia several months after we caught him to proudly declare that he was a very dangerous and very dirty bomber.

The new claim is that he wanted blow up apartment buildings by using natural gas. But how do we know that’s true? How do we know the government won’t change their secret evidence again several years from now?

How do we know he did anything if all the evidence is kept secret? How do we know he didn’t sleep with Dick Cheney's wife? One of the reasons we have public trials is so that rumors don't take the place of facts. It is injurious to a free society to hide evidence. This seems so obvious that I feel awkward pointing it out.

Remember, when the Supreme Court finally gets the case, they will not be deciding whether Padilla is guilty or not, but whether we should bother to figure out if he's guilty or not.

If this still hasn't made you uncomfortable, try this one on for size: What is to prevent this administration from labeling you an enemy combatant?

Still not convinced. What is to stop the next administration - of either party - from labeling you an enemy combatant? If the Supreme Court decides the Bush administration can hold Padilla without his constitutional rights, the answer is simple -- absolutely nothing.

Good luck.